What is political ontology of Europe? In contrast with the imperial administration of China, Indian or American federalism and the centralised Russian kleptocracy, the former Maoist and Chairman of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso referred to the European Union as a “post-imperial empire”. That instantly brings to mind one of the sarcastic analyses of the current ideology offered by Slavoj Žižek: if we can have coffee without caffeine, cigarettes without carcinogens, love without the dangerous moment or beer without alcohol, why not have an empire without imperialism?
Despite Europe’s undisputedly colonial past and present, this idea can conceal a grain of truth inside. We can see it clearly in the migration and refugee waves passing through the territory of the old continent: one of xenophobic nationalists’ primary requirements was to have firm and impenetrable borders, which is so typical of the identitarianism of nation states and the imperial order. Also, we should not forget that empires were the first multicultural political entities in the history of mankind, expanding the range of cultures and ethnicities within their territories through military expansion.
Hence, Europe’s post-imperialism should be in fact multiculturalism without the restrictive power tying down local identities and cultures – instead, it should enable their ‘spontaneous’ contact and blending. The nation state is passé and the future belongs to new political constructs, architectures relying on Euro-nomadism and (as Deleuze puts it) the de-territorialisation of the old continent for its new re-territorialisation. As nice as such an idea may appear at first, the mechanism whereby it materialises is nothing else than the concentration of cultural and financial capital in cosmopolitan metropolises, which become truly European and cosmopolitan hubs, at the expense of all other territories that turn into marginal peripheries on the verge of financial and cultural interest.
The stratification of the space and time for living is happening on the level of entire states, regions, or within cities, which are understood as the multicultural bearers of European cosmopolitism and, as such, they de facto form the institutional and ideological backbone of the integration process. But what is happening to these hubs during the process of their cosmopolitanisation?
In his essay, The City in the Age of Touristic Reproduction, Boris Groys notes that traditional cities tend to isolate themselves from the outer world, thus being essentially anti-touristic: they exit space and float through time motionlessly. The onset of the 19th century, however, brought with it the notion of romantic tourism seeking cultural differences and local identities rather than universal Utopian models. Its viewpoint is not Utopian – it is essentially conservative and conservationist: it increasingly wants to turn vital cultural processes into petrified monuments.
Nevertheless, the paradox of the current post-romantic tourism is that the process of petrifying the local cultures and identities leads to homogenising them, with cities increasingly resembling one another. One of the results of this process is that real differences are created within the cities rather than from city to city. What happens is gentrification; the rise of city centres and peripheries, tourist and cultural neighbourhoods; and the proliferation of cultural industries, and this goes hand in hand with the proliferation of excluded areas and the privatisation of public space.
Author of concept: Martin Vrba
This debate is a part of MAGIC CARPETS project and is co-financed from the European Union Funds Creative Europe Programme